Southeast Minnesota Protection and Restoration Phase II
$5,770,000 in the second year is to the commissioner of natural resources for agreements to acquire land in fee for wildlife management area purposes under Minnesota Statutes, section 86A.05, subdivision 8; to acquire land in fee for scientific and natural areas under Minnesota Statutes, section 86A.05, subdivision 5; to acquire land in fee for state forest purposes under Minnesota Statutes, section 86A.05, subdivision 7; for permanent conservation easements; and to restore and enhance habitat on publicly protected lands as follows: $4,800,000 to The Nature Conservancy; and $970,000 to Minnesota Land Trust, of which up to $160,000 to Minnesota Land Trust is for establishing a monitoring and enforcement fund as approved in the accomplishment plan and subject to Minnesota Statutes, section 97A.056, subdivision 17. Lands acquired or lands with easements acquired with this appropriation may not be used foremergency haying and grazing in response to federal or state disaster declarations. Conservation grazing under a management plan that is already being implemented may continue. A list of proposed acquisitions, permanent conservation easements, and restorations and enhancements must be provided as part of the required accomplishment plan.
Improved availability and improved condition of habitats that have experienced substantial decline.Rivers and streams provide corridors of habitat including intact areas of forest cover in the east and large wetland/upland complexes in the west.Game lakes are significant contributors of waterfowl, due to efforts to protect uplands adjacent to game lakes.Healthier populations of endangered, threatened, and special concern species as well as more common species - Species population and distribution will be measured in future biological surveys taking place in the project area..Remnant goat prairies are perpetually protected - Acres of goat prairies protected..High priority riparian lands, forestlands, and savannas are protected from parcelization and fragmentation - Riparian lands will be measured in miles protected, fragmentation will be evaluated by increase in interior to edge ratio, reduction of public property boundary..Rivers, streams, and surrounding vegetation provide corridors of habitat - Increase length (miles) and aerial extent (acres) of corridors..Forestlands and savannas are protected from parceliazation and fragmentation and accessible for resource management purposes - Increase in acres accessible for management..Large corridors and complexes of biologically diverse wildlife habitat typical of the unglaciated region are restored and protected - Acres protected and overall increase in connected tracts..Landlocked public properties have increased access for land managers - Increase in acres accessible for management..Stream to bluff habitat restoration and enhancement will keep water on the land to slow runoff and degradation of aquatic habitat - Acres of perennial vegetation established and enhanced..Agriculture lands are converted to grasslands to sustain functioning prairie systems.
This project will protect and restore declining habitats for important wildlife species in strategically targeted areas of outstanding biodiversity in Southeast Minnesota. The project will result in increased public access and expanded habitat complexes critical to the state.
Importance of the Project Area:
The Southeast Blufflands region is as rich in habitat for game and nongame wildlife species as it is in aesthetic beauty. Long valleys rimmed with dry prairies and hardwood hills are bisected by coldwater trout streams. Unlike any other part of the state, much of the region and the greater Mississippi River Blufflands have been largely untouched by glaciers for 500,000 years. As a result of this unique geology, no other region in the state demonstrates this diversity and uniqueness of habitats of the Blufflands.
While much of the region has been converted to cropland, pasture and rural development, many of its bluffs and valleys are still home to high quality cliffs, forests, oak savannas, and prairies, including 86 different native plant community types mapped by the Minnesota Biological Survey (MBS) covering nearly 149,670 acres. This diversity is critical to the State’s enduring legacy of high quality forests, rivers and prairies. The region is home to 183 species of state-listed rare plants and animals in the region, many of them concentrated in the 749 sites of biodiversity significance mapped in the region by MBS.
Thanks to this diversity, the area is highly regarded for turkey and deer hunting along with other recreational pursuits such as trout fishing, hiking and biking. Outdoor recreation is a significant component to the local economy and heritage, drawing visitors from across the upper Midwest. However, unlike Northern Minnesota or other regions, less than 3% of the region’s watersheds are open to the public and relatively very little is in any kind of protected status. Rapid growth of nearby cities like Rochester and LaCrosse are increasing rural development with bluff top and remote country homes. More roads, buildings and associated infrastructure further fragment an already fragmented landscape, disturbing forest habitat and increasing already high erosion rates. In addition, due to the high price of agricultural commodities in recent years, farming practices have increasingly encroached on these unique habitats including tracts in this proposal and have had significant impacts to water quality. Finally, while the overall scale of impact is yet to be determined, silica sand mining poses potential risks to the region’s unparalleled biodiversity.
To maintain this legacy of the Blufflands’ unique natural habitats, there are three primary needs or opportunities in the region: 1) expand the amount of protected land—both public and private—in strategic locations based on existing protected lands and high-quality habitat; 2) maximize the quality of this protected habitat through well-executed restoration and enhancement projects; and 3) increase public access to these unique habitats in an area of the state with relatively little public lands.
Investment in habitat protection and restoration in the Southeast Blufflands by the Outdoor Heritage Fund would expand and connect larger contiguous blocks of protected lands, allowing land managers to restore and maintain native habitats at a scale difficult to accomplish with fragmented ownership. An example of this is the frequent prescribed fire burns necessary to reclaim the unique “goat prairies” and oak savanna from the cedar and buckthorn hillsides, which is most effective at larger scale.
Certain habitat complexes stand out in the watershed, including the different units of the R.J. Dorer Memorial Forest, state parks, and larger blocks of existing conservation easements. These complexes serve as hubs for additional protection through strategic fee title and conservation easement acquisitions. This proposal aims to enhance this prior conservation investment and ensure that the legacy of the Blufflands region is preserved for the future.
Overall Scope of Work:
This project has three primary components: 1) fee title acquisition of approximately 1,087 acres of forest and 170 acres of prairie along 2 miles of coldwater trout streams adjacent to state forest land, scientific and natural areas and a state park; 2) Enhancement of 127 acres of prairie and 40 acres of forest habitat along with 70 acres of forest restoration including 100 acres of native prairie enhancement within these protected habitat complexes; and 3) Strategic protection of approximately 480 acres of high-quality habitat on private lands within these complexes through the acquisition of conservation easements. Project partners include The Nature Conservancy, the Minnesota DNR and the Minnesota Land Trust. Priority for these three activities will be placed on targeted tracts within high biodiversity conservation complexes identified by project partners as representing the highest quality and most diverse habitat types in the region.
The Nature Conservancy will coordinate with MN DNR on all potential fee-title acquisitions. The Nature Conservancy will assist the participating DNR Divisions by conducting all or some of the following activities: initial site reviews, negotiations, appraisals, environmental reviews and acquisition of fee title. In the event the Conservancy comes into the chain of title, it will transfer the property to the DNR. The property acquired with this funding will be owned and managed by the DNR as State Forest, Wildlife Management Area or Scientific and Natural Areas, which will be open for public hunting and fishing.
Restoration and Enhancement:
Restoration plans and activities will be coordinated with DNR Forestry, Wildlife and Nongame leads for specific units. TNC will contract with CCM as much as possible and other local vendors for invasive brush removal and prescribed fire on 127 acres of bluff prairie and oak savanna restorations, 70 acres of forest planting and prescribed fire on 40 acres of forest enhancements on new acquisitions.
Conservation Easement Acquisitions:
To complement the fee title acquisitions described above, the Minnesota Land Trust will acquire permanent conservation easements on 480 acres of high quality prairie, forest and riparian habitat in the Blufflands. Priority will be given to important private parcels that are near-by or adjacent to existing protected habitat complexes.
The Minnesota Land Trust works only with conservation easements that are perpetual. These easements prohibit land uses or development that negatively affect important habitat and other conservation values.